With the current concern over levels of predation that many of our fisheries face, the Angling Trust are putting an extra injection of Environment Agency rod licence funding into otter proof fencing this year. Dominic Garnett visited Andy’s Lake in the Cotswolds to meet Paul Mundy and find out more about the importance of this for clubs and fisheries.
While conservationists have welcomed the return of otters across England, their revival remains one of the most contentious of angling issues. But while we cannot rewind the clock or change public opinion overnight, the better news is that there are definite ways we can help to create healthier habitats and protect fisheries wherever possible.
Knowledge is definitely power here, which is where our fisheries and predation experts can help clubs and fisheries. Realistically though, the solution for a lot of stillwaters is direct protection by otter proof fencing. Which is exactly why the Angling Trust continues to ring-fence funding to help fisheries. The total figure already runs well beyond the £500 000 mark and will continue this year. So what does this entail? And how can clubs benefit?
Otters at Andy’s Lake
It’s a wet afternoon, just on the cusp of the close season that I meet with Paul Mundy. The gravel pit fishery he runs is a living tribute to his angling mad brother, who died tragically young in the early 1990s. The fishery a not for profit operation with a good bunch of caring anglers to look after it.
“It’s a great community here, we have a nice ethos” says Paul. “We don’t run it for profit and we don’t have the resources of some of our neighbours with holiday lodges and big bank balances. Everyone chips in and does what they can in terms of legwork and funding. Just this winter alone, with all the gales it was been a huge effort to trim some of the surrounding trees.”
Maintained and fished by a collective of anglers for mutual benefit, the lake had been nurtured as a mixed fishery in memory of Andy Mundy for years, himself a keen all-rounder. The idea was to make it a haven for wildlife and many fish species; but the recent reappearance of otters had become quite a serious issue.
“I have no personal beef against otters. I wish them no harm,” says Paul. “But we can’t lose valuable stock. I’ve been here for 26 years and you can’t just see the place ripped apart, something had to be done.”
“We lost huge old tench just shy of double figures – and various carp to nearly 30lbs. When you think that these fish could cost two or three thousand to replace, it’s pretty alarming! And those fish are just the ones we know of- if you leave a trail cam by any carcass, you see how quickly a fox or badger will take the rest. You might only find the odd scale next day.”
Otter proofing the fishery
Paul is quick to point out that otter fencing isn’t cheap, but by combining sources of funds and knowledge, the fishery was protected. Members dug deep to support this initially, and local company Embryo carried out the preparatory work. This then showed Paul and his anglers how to continue work themselves, while the Angling Improvement Fund (AIF) helped by financing extra materials.
So, a case of job done? Hardly. As Paul tells me, these otters are fiendishly clever and dextrous creatures and your defences need to be carefully installed and checked. One curious point was an overflow pipe to a neighbouring lake, for example. Paul had installed a grill on this to block intruders, but it kept moving.
“At first I couldn’t work out what was going on. I’d look at it and think: who’s lifted the grill on the pipe? It was the otters actually trying to lift up the mesh!
Someone actually found an otter working on the pipe at one stage- luckily it was caught in the act and quickly swam off, or it could have easily ended up in the fishery!” Needless to say, the grill is now securely fixed in place and the intruders have learned not to bother tampering with it.
Reinforced grills and other defences have thus been crucial. Similarly, other potential weak spots include the tops and bottoms of fences. All the way round, the fence at Andy’s Lake is secured several inches under the ground. At the gates, you’ll also find all the small gaps closed up- circus contortionists have nothing on otters when it comes to finding their way through even quite small gaps!
Paul is only too aware of these risks- and when protecting a fishery you are only as strong as your weakest point. The “skirting” of any fence (a section of fence dug and secured 8” underground with 6” nails, to prevent anything from digging in) is a typical example of this.
On the subject of checks and good practice, the Angling Trust is always keen to provide all the help it can, with two of our own Fishery Management Advisors, funded by the Environment Agency: click here for contact details.
A game-changing outcome
Since Paul got the funding to finish the defences off and has been maintaining it carefully each week, the fishery has literally ring-fenced a safer future. You can understand why it means so much, after two and a half decades here. Like the very fish stocks on the lake, today’s towering trees were planted by hand back in the 1990s.
“So far, so good, touch wood!” is Paul’s verdict on the fence. “We’ve had no problems since, although we know there are still otters around nearby, because you can still find the spraints in the area.”
A fence might sound drastic to some, then, but it has also protected the other wildlife Paul and his anglers love so much. “We used to find all sorts of birds also preyed on by otters” he recalls. “Grebes with the heads bitten off, or you’d see a coot’s nest full of eggs one day and totally empty the next.”
In spite of all of this, Paul retains a cool-headed understanding about the wider issues and is not of the “cull everything” school of angling. It is perhaps just the latest challenge- to take just one other example, he has also kept crayfish in check with a special deal with licenced trappers.
“With so many of these issues, we might not be able to get things perfect but it’s up to all of us to help make things as good as we can” he says. “These days with social media, the trouble is that lots of folks will rant and rave but won’t help to make things better.”
On my visit, we’re hoping that the weather will improve- but if anything the threat of a soaking only increases. Paul’s dog woody is about the only one who still wants to be out in the fresh air by this stage, so we take shelter in the fishery hut.
Looking at all the great catches and stories over the years, you can see just what a rich legacy there is here- and exactly why the new otter fence is so important. There are some classic looking carp and tench pictures from over the years- but the fishery is also refreshingly mixed, as Andrew Mundy would have insisted himself. The annual pike fishing match is a tribute to him that’s still going strong after 26 years, too, with all the money going to Angling Trust and Fish Legal.
A member of the trust since the very start, as well as the ACA previously, Paul is adamant that all anglers should play their part. “Everyone should give it their backing” he says. “You’ve got to pitch in and support what you believe in. It’s so important we come together. This is the only way things improve.”
Further info and useful links:
The Angling Improvement Fund (AIF): Is a scheme administered by the Angling Trust to use rod licence funds to help develop and protect fisheries. New applications can be made as of late April this year (announcement to be made shortly). Indeed, in the 2019-2020 round of funding, our main focus is anti-predation measures. For further details on the AIF and how to apply, CLICK HERE.
More about predation and the Angling Trust’s free advice for clubs and fisheries: See our recent blog with Jake Davoile, which takes a look at the wider issues and some of the ways fisheries can be better protected against cormorants and other predators.
Free advice for your club or fishery: Who can I contact?
If your club or fishery has predation issues and you would like free advice from Jake or Richard then please use the contact details below.
Telephone 07949 703 206
Telephone 07904 041 518